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’Tis the season for giving … anything but a pet!

When I was a child, I asked Santa for a puppy every Christmas. And every Christmas, I was disappointed. No puppy.

Couldn’t Santa see that a puppy was the only gift that I really wanted? Apparent-ly, my parents had other ideas!

On the surface, a puppy or kitten seems like the perfect gift … a cuddly, super-adorable ball of fluff nestled in a basket under the tree, decked out in a big red bow. Who could resist all that cuteness? It’s the stuff that holiday photos are made of.

Yet as much joy as pets bring to our lives, the holiday season is a very tough environment for a young puppy or kitten (or even an older animal) to handle. There is so much going on at this time of year — social events, relatives coming and going, noisy new toys and games, and more — that a new puppy or kitten can easily get lost in the shuffle.

And then there’s housebreaking … In our area, by the time the holidays roll around, winter is in full swing, with shorter days and blustery weather.

Housebreaking a new puppy means multiple trips outdoors, often on an hourly basis, when it’s dark, cold, windy or rainy. That’s no fun for the new owner … or the new puppy.

Often parents think a pet is just the right thing to teach their young children responsibility, without considering the fact that the young puppy or kitten is a very needy, living being that demands a lot of care and attention. Most young children don’t have the ability or interest in providing the care that their “gift” requires.

Instead of being the rewarding teaching experience that parents envision, the puppy or kitten becomes the target of threats, punishment or, in some cases, neglect.

At that point, the next step is often surrender the animal to a (probably overcrowded) local animal shelter or listed for sale or giveaway online, just to “get rid of” the source of stress and anxiety in the household.

For a months-old puppy or kitten, they face an uncertain future at a time when they need structure and stability the most.

And if you’re tempted to surprise a friend or family member with a pet this holiday season, your good intentions may backfire.

As wonderful as getting a new pet can be, are you sure that the recipient actually wants to take on that responsibility at this point in their life?

They may prefer a cat instead of a dog, an older dog instead of a puppy, or a short-haired cat instead of a long-haired one. Because adopting a pet should be considered a lifelong commitment, it’s important to be sure that everyone involved is fully prepared to welcome a furry friend into their home.

But it’s not all bah-humbug! If you’re convinced that adding a puppy or kitten is right for your family, why not wait until the hubbub of the holidays is over? Decorations will be packed away for another year, the constant flow of relatives and friends will have subsided, and your daily schedule will have returned to normal. The post-holiday quiet is the perfect time to introduce a new pet to your home. Consider nestling a breed-appropriate stuffed animal under the tree with a “promise tag” to be fulfilled in the new year.

If you know that a friend or relative is considering a new pet, instead of showing up with Fluffy or Fido, surprise them with necessities they’ll need to help their new friend settle in.

Beds, toys, bowls, crates or exercise pens, litter boxes and/or other supplies will help them be prepared to bring their new family member home when the time is right.

Or, why not pre-pay the adoption fee at your local animal shelter? That way, the recipient can pick out their new best friend when they’re ready to bring him or her home.

Most shelters offer gift certificates toward a future adoption. And you’ll avoid making an impulse purchase that may not be the right fit for the family.

Truth be told, I never forgave Santa for not delivering my puppy each and every Christmas. But maybe he knew best after all.

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